Leviathan blog post

The leviathan is definitely a risky and ambitious piece of literature, both in and out of its context. The risks Hobbes takes in recording such a definite opinion on human nature and society is substantial, considering the precarious times in which he lived- times when having any sort of strong resolve for much any principle could be dangerous. This said, it seems fitting that someone who valued the masses and ‘common man’ so much should be bold enough to independently try defining civilization. For as far as I know, Hobbes was in no position of authority or power (political or otherwise) at the time he wrote the Leviathan.

The text holds great potential for controversy in modern times as well. As accurate as Hobbes’ description of anarchy may be, it implies that humans are naturally selfish and bad. This position is a bold one, due if nothing else but to its bleakness. Also, it is an opinion that is easy to oversimplify and jump to conclusions about. The common interpretation of it is that people are by default innately malicious in their ‘natural state’, as malevolence is obviously linked to ‘bad’ or ‘selfish’ values. But I think it is important to note that Hobbes does not say that people will go out of their way to harm others without reason, but only in protection of themselves, or for their own benefit. And according to Hobbes’ theory regarding the commonwealth, people will only tend to do this in times of discord, war, and distrust which arise out of lack of unity. For it is not just that bad human nature creates war and anarchy, but vice versa as well. That is to say people act badly under circumstances in which they cannot trust or understand each other due to lack of a common goal. I don’t think this is much of a stretch. For lack of unity is a powerful inhibitor of empathy, which is an important factor in peace.

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  1. I think you’re right on the money here. The state of nature is a state of war, but not because deep down everyone enjoys harming other people, stealing from them, killing, etc. It happens when and because we are in a state where we don’t trust each other, where we don’t know what others are going to do, and where there is a real risk of being harmed ourselves. We might actually not want to engage in fighting with others, but feel we have no choice in order to protect ourselves.

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